Use of handheld computers in medical education

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Over the past decade, handheld computers (or personal digital assistants [PDAs]) have become a popular tool among medical trainees and physicians. Few comprehensive reviews of PDA use in medicine have been published.


We systematically reviewed the literature to (1) describe medical trainees' use of PDAs for education or patient care, (2) catalog popular software applications, and (3) evaluate the impact of PDA use on patient care.


MEDLINE (1993 to 2004), medical education-related conference proceedings, and hand search of article bibliographies.


We identified articles and abstracts that described the use of PDAs in medical education by trainees or educators. Reports presenting a qualitative or quantitative evaluation were included.


Sixty-seven studies met inclusion criteria. Approximately 60% to 70% of medical students and residents use PDAs for educational purposes or patient care. Satisfaction was generally high and correlated with the level of handheld computer experience. Most of the studies included described PDA use for patient tracking and documentation. By contrast, trainees rated medical textbooks, medication references, and medical calculators as the most useful applications. Only 1 randomized trial with educational outcomes was found, demonstrating improved learning and application of evidence-based medicine with use of PDA-based decision support software. No articles reported the impact of PDA use on patient outcomes.


Most medical trainees find handhelds useful in their medical education and patient care. Further studies are needed to evaluate how PDAs impact learning and clinical outcomes.

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